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Senate says no time for House draft charter

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FILE photo of Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III taken on March 6, 2018. — SENATE PRIB

By Camille A. Aguinaldo, Reporter

THERE IS no time to tackle the draft constitution proposed by House Speaker Gloria M. Arroyo in the 17th Congress, Senate leaders said on Tuesday.

“Because of time constraints, I really doubt if we will be able to consider it,” Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III told reporters.

Last Monday, the House committee on constitutional amendments presented to the plenary a draft constitution that removes term limits among lawmakers and the ban on political dynasties.

The proposed Charter was filed by Ms. Arroyo, separate from the draft created by the President’s Consultative Committee (ConCom).

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel F. Zubiri, for his part, said it would be difficult to tackle charter change since the Senate will be focused on the passage of the proposed 2019 budget when Congress resumes session in November.

“With all due respect to our colleagues in the House, we don’t have time. We have the budget coming up, so the whole November and December, we will be discussing and approving the budget,” Mr. Zubiri told reporters.

“Practically, we can discuss this on the 18th Congress,” he added.

The mid-term elections is scheduled in May 2019, which covers positions for all House representatives and 12 of the 24 senators.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon also noted that the Senate is still awaiting the report of the Senate committee on constitutional amendments and revision of codes on Charter Change.

He described Ms. Arroyo’s version as “dead on arrival” if the proposal is transmitted to the Senate.

“We are still awaiting the report of the committee whether or not the recommendation is to amend the Constitution and if it is through constituent assembly before we reconsider the substance of the proposal. There is simply no time,” he told reporters. .

Ms. Arroyo’s draft Constitution sets the Senate president, instead of the vice-president, as the successor of the President should he step down during the transition period to federalism.

House committee on constitutional amendments chair Vicente S.E. Veloso has said the provision was meant to ensure stability amid the ongoing electoral protest between Vice President Leni G. Robredo and losing candidate Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. However, Mr. Drilon held a different view, saying that the stability has already been assured in the succession provisions of the Constitution.

“Certainly at the very least, the rule of succession applies and therefore, the Vice President should take over. That is the role of the Vice President. I cannot support the proposal… If they want to achieve stability, the stability is to follow the rule of succession; otherwise, there will be instability because the Senate President can be replaced anytime,” he said.

Sought for comment, Ibarra M. Gutierrez III, spokesperson of Ms. Robredo told reporters: “The agenda of the House of Representatives has been clear in its proposed Charter Change. At first, they said they wanted to revise the economic provisions, to implement federalism and to help the country. But it turned out that there is no interest to address the problems facing the country today. The interest really is blatant power grab. There is no reason to skip over the Vice President in the terms of succession.”

Meanwhile, the House committee on constitutional amendments will continue working on its draft constitution with an aim for approval by year-end.

“We envisioned that by May 2019, we will have a ratified 2018 constitution,” Mr. Veloso told reporters in a press briefing, Monday.

He explained that with this target, the House has to pass its version by February at the latest.

Committee member Alfredo B. Benitez of the 3rd district of Negros Occidental said in mixed Filipino and English, “As far as we’re concerned, maybe this year we can pass this.” — with Charmaine A. Tadalan